Anastasia Miari on the magical places to visit in Greece long after the crowds have dispersed
Greece is perhaps best known for its idiosyncratic white-washed homes with blue shuttered windows, octopus hanging in the sun to dry and its wild beaches with turquoise waters. All of these are symbols of a Greek island summer but what about off-season when the sunbeds are packed away and even locals leave in favour of city living? From UNESCO awarded city of gastronomy to hiking fantasy landscapes in middle Greece, the following is just a selection of the spots best enjoyed off-season…
This year named Greece’s capital of Gastronomy by UNESCO, the Byzantine city of Thessaloniki is known to all Greeks as the place to holiday if you’re into food. Taking influence from a multicultural population that once spanned Spanish Jews, Armenians, Italians and Muslims from the Ottoman empire, Thessaloniki boasts some of Greece’s most loved bites, from the rich, semolina filled phyllo pastry, bougatsa to spinach fritters.
Off the coast of Ikaria, the legendary Ikarus attempted to fly to the sun and plunged shortly after to an early death into the inky blue Aegean. He was one of the unlucky few, for islanders here are the most likely to live to the age of 100 in all of Europe. The 'Island of longevity' has long been awarded 'Blue Zone' status for its residents with youthful complexions and unerring zest for life. A diet rich in legumes and free of stimulants like coffee has been nodded to as the reason for the number of centenarians on Ikaria, and come Autumn, you can see that their active lifestyle, tending to the land might also have something to do with it.
Visit Ikaria’s Karimalis Winery and Farmhouse Restaurant from October onwards and you’ll be treated to expert knowledge from Iliana, a young wine producer and Eleni, her mother, a cook completely obsessed with serving up delicious plates of food that are free of sugar, preservatives and completely local and organic. Stay at the centuries old farmhouse that has been in the family for 500 years.
Santorini - Cycladica
Perhaps one of the best known islands of Greece thanks to its dramatic and sweeping volcanic caldera, peppered with cubist houses, Santorini has become one of our most over touristed islands. Thankfully, the crowds begin to disperse from October onwards and the island still sees sunny days well up until February and March when the weather takes a turn for the worst. Off-season is perhaps the best time to take in the Caldera without crowds and to drive along the islands winding bends, taking in its rugged volcanic landscape.
The archaeological site of Akrotiri and the village of Pyrgos are underrated spots that are deserving of your to-do list while the unique Cycladica cave houses on the Caldera are open for guests to stay all winter. Enjoy the famous view, completely free of selfie sticks.
Another island that sees its fair share of tourists come July and August, Corfu is best seen off-season, when the locals get their down time. Perfect for a short winter break, Corfu town is one of the few ‘Choras’ in all of Greece that still retains a sense of life and vitality in the winter months. Owing to the universities in town, bars and restaurants remain open in the old town and have an altogether more local feel in the winter months.
For a rural feel, stay at Dr Kavvadias Organic Farm during the olive harvest and venture into town to eat at Nautilus on the coast or Pergola in the heart of the Venetian old town.
Greece’s most southern island, Crete enjoys sunny days for most of the year, excluding the slightly drizzlier months of February and March. Once the crowds leave Irakleio and Chania, the real Crete can be enjoyed at the heart of the island, in its mountain villages. One of the best reasons to visit Crete off season is the Raki distilling period in Autumn. A type of Cretan grappa made from the leftovers of the grape harvest, Raki is what every Cretan will offer you on arrival at their home, taverna or Kafeneion.
Visit during the Tsikoudia festival at the start of November and stay at the new boutique hotel, The Tanneries in Chania.
To best enjoy the epic landscapes and teetering monasteries of Meteora, visit when the heat of the summer dies down. Hiking middle Greece’s fantasy-feeling rolling hills and verdant valleys is not ideal in the summer heat, where temperatures in the region can reach 40C. Instead, visit the 12th Century Monasteries and hike the unique Thessalian landscape in Spring or Autumn where lush forests and wild-herb strewn meadows will completely change your image of Greece. Stay at Hotel Meteora for the best views of the cinematic landscape.